Goodbye-ing

Terry and I had unfinished business. Not surprising, she hated saying goodbye. When we were first living with each other she would get so mad when I’d go away for a weekend workshop, she would almost stop speaking to me. So much for a hug and a kiss goodbye, be thankful she didn’t knock your teeth in. She stopped wandering the world when we got married. I think that was a burden on her spirit. I tried to convince her to take a week or two away throughout our marriage. She never accepted. Once we’d made a home she didn’t want to leave.

When I see Terry in photos from the last five years of her life its clear there is an ebbing of happiness. Joy was draining from her slowly, we couldn’t figure out why. I had many theories, none of them probably had anything to do with what she was really going through. Maybe it was the early stages of cancer finding her. Maybe it was her unfulfilled wanderlust, maybe it was our marriage. I think she liked being married to me, so long as it didn’t get in the way of us having a family. I was starting to insist on getting in the way.

Her sadness and a our lack of intimacy dating back years had tested our marriage in many ways. Three counselors and lots of strife later, we were no closer to resolving our issues. The “D” word had begun to float into some of our conversations. We decided to put all of that aside when her cancer returned. I’m so glad we did, I can’t imagine how much harder her illness would have been for all of us if we were in any phase of a separation. The bonds of our family held us all through so much of her suffering and passing.

But that state of affairs has left me in a strange place. Its been pecking at me every time I sit in a grief support group, talk to a counselor, or read a book on loss. Terry’s spirit is very real to me. She’s not a phone call away, but she is still accessible to me. I find her in dreams and in journeys if she’ll see me. She is still as real as sliced bread and sunrises. The reality of the spirits dates back to before my shamanic practice started in my late 20’s. In my youth, without the use of mind altering substances, ritual or drumming music, I went to places that were more real than this reality, felt spirits who were more tangible to me than the solidity of this life. Shamanic practice has only strengthened my experience.

All of that doesn’t eliminate grieving at all, but it does change it sometimes.

I’ve also been seeing someone over the past months. It has been an incredible journey, I have a gift for falling for truly astounding women. Sadly, its not going well. Being with her has made me acutely aware of unfinished business I have (Duh – yes, in the final analysis I can be a dense asshat of a man.) Apart from making way for a new love, I’ve felt the weight of my own heart, and it does not feel good. How much of a refuge can I be for my children, for a new love, with the burden of uncried tears and unsaid goodbyes filling me? My reawakened passion has only added to the pressure to move forward.

It turns out I’ve been carrying around a floating divorce of sorts. Terry and I did not say “’til death do us part” in our wedding vows. Now I understand why people include that clause. If the spirits are real to you, tangible in your life, does your marriage really end after death? All of the grief material and counseling I’ve been in focus on the beloved being totally gone. Time to dunk yourself in a cold bath of the existential reality of being totally alone in the universe. But what if you live in a world in which you are never alone? What if the bonds of love survive death? You suffer for lack of the person being physically here, and you celebrate her new existence.

Last night I went to the spirits to get a divorce. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but it was not for lack of love of Terry. It was just time to say that goodbye. I had a few things from our wedding I was ready to let go of, small tokens of that day. I was dubious that I was actually going to get to see her. She was very tentative about seeing me in dreams shortly after her passing, and when friends had journeyed to check on her crossing over she was cordial but distant. I tried to journey to her once or twice but nothing really worked that well. I had several clear visits in this reality, but they felt elusive. I think she didn’t want me to cling to her so soon after her death. She has become much better at goodbyes than me in the next life.

I decided to start with a teacher in the upper world I often journey to when I have a really tough problem. As soon as I arrived to see her and announced my intention Terry showed up. She was radiant, wearing a May crown of flowers as she did at our wedding. How wonderful it was to see her so restored! I suddenly felt how much I missed her! She danced around, celebrating, spinning and laughing. Even in dreams I had not seen her so bright and full. And she was ready to get down to business.

She stood beside me and shared with me how important our marriage had been to her. How comforted she felt being married to a man who cared so much for her. I was really able to receive so much of what our married life and family had meant to her. I asked her if she had any advice for the children, she did. I asked her if she had a preference for what I did with our wedding rings, she wanted me to save hers for True. I thanked her for our marriage and asked her to release me from its bonds. Then she stood to face me.

With my helping spirit facilitating, we released the connection of our marriage. It was so wonderfully clear, clean, without any judgment. What an extraordinary gift. We said goodbye – for now (I wished we’d learned to do that when she was alive!), and I returned to finish my ritual, burning a few things in the fireplace. I was filled with such renewed gratitude for her. Memories of her joyful presence filled me. I toasted our marriage and her life.

Every once in a while I’ll uncork something in my heart that allows so many things to move. This was one of them. I woke the next day filled with gratitude for my marriage and my kids. I felt so strongly the sense of having a life before me, so solid in my own body.

We all carry grief in our lives, even those of us who have never lost someone dear to us. It lives in our hearts and bones, travels with us as we eat, do laundry and share our lives with others. It just needs to be able to move, not get stuck. The spirits can help us with that, if we only reach out to ask. I am so glad Terry was able to answer my call. What a gift.